Tag Archives: scott stadium

Virginia Cavaliers Football – An Acquired Taste

Editors note: David sent this to us WEEKS ago, but we dropped the ball and didn’t publish it. Some of the words may be a bit dated, but the overall message is relevant. -Damien Bowman

Much like single malt scotch or hoppy craft beer, Virginia football is an acquired taste. Some (possibly the fortunate) never acquire the taste. Those that do, for better or worse, are hooked and subject to a lifetime of maddening possibilities, endless “what-ifs”, and perpetually unmet expectations.

The past two weeks of Virginia football serve as a microcosm of a lifetime as a Virginia fan. Last week Virginia was one 4th down conversion away from an historic upset of an uber-talented, top-10 Notre Dame team. After failing to hold Notre Dame on what would have been a win-sealing 4th down stop, the college football gods decided it was time to kick their favorite whipping boy in the teeth one more time. An obvious offensive holding penalty missed in the backfield resulted in a 20 yard gain for the Irish. Then the game ending dagger, a 40 yard touchdown bomb with 12 seconds to play to take the lead and win the game for Notre Dame. Only in Charlottesville, only to Virginia.

The Good Lord knows, that the last thing Virginia football needs is another moral victory, but walking out of Scott Stadium, Virginia fans were heart-broken, yet encouraged. Virginia played like they belonged with one of the best teams in the country. Virginia rallied from 2 scores down to take the lead, showed a moxie and even a swagger that has been absent from Scott Stadium for years. While Virginia lost, all was not lost and maybe, just maybe playing 2 top 10 teams in the first two weeks of the season would temper this team for the rest of the season and Virginia would rise from their interminable ashes in the ACC Coastal division.

Then, William & Mary came to town…

I hate playing William & Mary because I really like Jimmie Laycock. The two things you can take to the bank when playing The Tribe is that they will be very well prepared and very well coached. Against FBS teams, that almost always means W&M will be competitive for at least a half and occasionally will walk away with a well-deserved victory. However, after Virginia took the #9 team in the country to the wire the previous week, Virginia was poised to begin their renaissance. William & Mary was to be the first step in a march to a 5-2 record culminating in an Coastal showdown with Georgia Tech. In the prescient words of Lee Corso “not so fast!” This week, Virginia was every bit as challenged by William & Mary as they were by Notre Dame. Virginia fell behind by two scores to W&M, had to rally, and barely hung on for a win. When Virginia needed smash—mouth yards to grind out first downs to seal their victory, William & Mary was stronger, faster, and more effective in the trenches. Virginia was out-played at the line of scrimmage for most of the day. While this day the football deities begrudgingly smiled on Virginia football, Virginia fans left Scott Stadium wondering if another victory was possible this year or if this season represented yet another opportunity to improve season ticket seating for next year’s team under a new coaching regime.

Next week against Boise St, I suspect we will know which path Virginia football will take. With a victory against a solid if not strong BSU team, Virginia might embark upon a 5-2 mark and Coastal showdown with Ga. Tech. With a loss, I might start planning for just how close to the 50 yard line I want to sit next year and figuring out which seats are closest to the concessions and restrooms. There is no question Virginia’s players are good enough to win this game. The unanswered question, as has been the case under Mike London’s entire tenure, is can the Virginia coaching staff get this team ready to win? At this point, I think it’s a coin toss, a “pick ‘em”. Might be good…might be bad. The good news for me is that no matter which path Virginia takes, I will always have a bottle of Balvenie Doublewood 12 at the ready. Unlike Virginia football, Balvenie never disappoints.

Follow David on Twitter @DMRayner.

Virginia and Georgia: Compare and Contrast

Sanford Stadium is one of college football's greatest venues.
Sanford Stadium is one of college football’s greatest venues. Photo by author

I was among the 92,000+ woofing, screaming, deliriously happy Georgia fans at this past weekend’s tackle football contest against the Auburn Tigers.  I knew that this big game between two ranked opponents, in the nation’s best football conference, would give me lots of data that I could use to compare the football programs at Virginia and Georgia. I know that ACC football in general is about a 90-yard field goal away from the product put out by the SEC’s schools, but I hoped to find some common elements that would give me reason to believe that Virginia’s problems are not insurmountable. That’s what I hoped, anyway.

The comparisons are pretty easy.

Both schools play Division 1 football.

That’s about it.  There is little else about the two programs that is comparable other than the fact that both schools have been playing football for more than 120 years.  UVA football is free Tuesday night Shakespeare-in-the-Park.  Georgia football is a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.  Georgia plays before sellout crowds year after year. Virginia plays to half-empty stadiums filled with listless and frustrated fans. Georgia has won 768 games in 122 years, Virginia 632 in 126 years.  Virginia’s record is distorted by success in the late 1800s and early 1900s, periods that only Wahoo homers would trot out in support of Virginia’s football relevance. Virginia played football for almost 100 years before qualifying for its first bowl game in 1984.  It has but two conference co-championships to show for 61 years of ACC football effort.  Georgia, meanwhile has been to 49 bowl games and has won two national championships in its history.

Georgia has demographics that Virginia does not. Georgia’s Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 and is the 5th-largest on-campus stadium in the country. Virginia’s Scott Stadium, by contrast, seats 61,500, making it the nation’s 27th-largest on-campus stadium, a surprising fact given Virginia’s historical football mediocrity.  Athens, with a population of 112,000, is better able to support the home team than is Charlottesville and its 44,000 residents. Georgia has a strong alumni base among metropolitan Atlanta’s 6.2 million residents, who are just 70 miles away.  Virginia’s total population, by contrast, is 8.2 million and UVA must cobble together a crowd from all over the state. While Georgia’s Atlanta fans wouldn’t think of missing a game, Virginia’s non-Charlottesville fans are decidedly more, ahem, cavalier.  Noon games may be too early, night games may be too late.  August and September games are too hot and by the time good football weather rolls around, Virginia may be out of contention for…anything.

Georgia’s success has created demand for the product.  Now, to be fair, I was at Georgia for a night-game against a ranked and hated conference rival in what is billed as the deep South’s oldest rivalry, but I also have been in Scott Stadium for night games, big games, and big night games against ranked opponents.  I was in the crowd for what probably was Virginia’s biggest game ever, the 1990 game against Georgia Tech when Virginia was the #1 ranked team in the country.  I was not in the crowd for Virginia’s biggest night win ever, the 1995 Thursday night victory over Florida State.  I’m sure that the atmosphere was electric at that game almost 20 years ago, but what I experienced at Sanford Stadium last weekend is not an anomaly–it’s the norm. Virginia may not ever have had–even at the program’s peak in 1990–an atmosphere comparable to what I experienced Saturday night in Athens.

According to the Georgia Athletics website, “Georgia’s average home attendance has ranked among the nation’s top 10 for 23 consecutive seasons and among the top seven for 21 of the past 24 years. Virginia has not played in front of a sellout crowd since last year’s Virginia Tech game, and only then because Tech fans bought all the unsold tickets. It was hardly a home game sellout atmosphere.  Georgia fans did not sit for one second of game action Saturday night, allowing themselves a brief rest only during timeouts. Virginia fans will stand only when exhorted by the team or when a big play is coming. Shakespeare vs. Led Zeppelin.

Interestingly, Virginia’s and Georgia’s football paths crossed when Virginia coach George Welsh retired following the 2000 season.  Georgia also was looking for a new coach following the dismissal of Jim Donnan.  Both schools pursued then Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt, with Georgia winning the bidding.  Spurned by Richt, Virginia seemingly pulled a coup in convincing then New York Jets head coach and UVA alumnus Al Groh back to Charlottesville.  Seemingly. While Georgia got the coach it wanted in Richt, who has gone 134-47 in his time at Georgia, Virginia is still searching for a worthy successor to Welsh.  Groh and his successor Mike London have gone but 81-90 since Welsh’s fateful announcement in 2000.

If winning cures everything then Virginia needs to start winning again. Virginia must find another George Welsh. Like it or not, college sports have become big time businesses and universities must push back against the academic community’s revulsion of sports and embrace that fact. Football success and fundraising success are linked.  Football is the flagship product and UVA must find a way to win without sacrificing the academic standards that it holds above all else.  Difficult, but not impossible.  Virginia alumni want a team that they can be proud of.  In a time of dwindling state financial support, alumni support is needed to bridge the gap.  A winning football program spurs alumni support not just of the football program , but of all areas of the school.  Virginia cannot afford to play to a half-empty stadium of listless and disenchanted fans.  The financial repercussions are too great.